Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Found Files

Last weekend we spent a day deep cleaning the house. I came across 2 memory sticks (thumb drives?). One holds backups of my novel - so I must have that backed up in multiple places because it wasn't the drive I am currently using to back it up. The other has drafts of old short stories and miscellaneous writings. One story in particular I thought I had lost when out external backup drive failed. It had held all the files from the desktop computer I had before this one. Most of my other stories were also on my laptop since that's what I use the most for writing, but I know I'm still missing a few stories.

This one in particular was still in progress, and I still really like the concept. The execution needed some work yet, but there were a few scenes that I remember being really proud of, that came off just like they were in my head. That's tough for me. My plan had been to start from scratch someday to rewrite that one, but now I don't have to. I just have to finish. I'm pretty excited to reread it and get back to it.

If only I was so greatly rewarded every time I cleaned, maybe my house wouldn't be such an embarrassment most of the time.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Bob's Raging Bladder Infection

Bob eating- yea! photo by Kara Hartz
I've been sure that Bob is on death's door for about 3 years now. He gets sick, I'm sure that this is the end because, well he's got a broken spine and he's a thousand years old - how much more can he take, right? But he always pulls through. He is the toughest cat in the history of cats.

The latest episode in this ongoing story: he was eating poorly, and had lost significant weight. I took him with me to work for a bath. That was the only plan. At the hospital I work at we use these disposable cardboard litter pans for cats that are clean and fit well into the kennels without taking up all the space. We don't put much litter in them so the kennel doesn't get too messy if the cat kicks the litter around. I leave Bob's diaper off when I have him at work with me to let his poor bottom air out. When he used his box, it was clear he had significant blood in his urine. (I thought is strange that this didn't show up in his diapers.)

So began the tests. We got blood and urine samples. I was sure his kidneys must be starting to fail because his last bloodwork showed his kidney values in the 'grey zone'. In other words, not yet bad enough to diagnose kidney disease, but not quite a good as we'd like. Shocking, for a 19/20 year old cat, his kidney values came back this time just perfect. Like I said, he's an amazing guy. But he does have a raging bladder infection. He was treated with Convenia injectable antibiotic, which we just learned today from his urine culture that his infection is susceptible to. His attitude has since improved greatly.

I'm wondering if the diaper could be a contributing factor to this development. Might holding the wet diaper near his body encourage bacteria to migrate up into his bladder? I think maybe. We can't discontinue the diaper for Bob at this stage. He really seems to have almost no control at all of his urine anymore, so I will just need to be extra diligent about changing him if he is even a little wet. Unlike a baby, he doesn't complain and ask to be changed.

The other strange thing is - he had barely eaten anything in about a week when I took him to work. Then there, he ate three cans of food that day. The next day at home he didn't want to eat again. So I switched his dish for the paper bowls we use at work (as seen in the photo above) and he started eating again. I thought his dish was somehow difficult for him to eat out of or he decided he didn't like it. Unfortunately, the paper dish solution has not continued to work. He is back to sporadic eating habits. So I'd love some theories or ideas about how to encourage better eating. I'm thinking of trying a flat dish - if a more open paper bowl was easier than his ceramic bowl, maybe a plate will be even easier? Yes, I'm reaching here, but you would too if you loved this cat.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

To Hell with Nazis and the KKK

I've been trying to decide what to say about the recent events in Chartlottesville, but I just get angry. I'm not sure I have anything coherent to say, but I'm not willing to say nothing.
Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are evil.
The only way 'both sides' of an interaction with Nazis could be just as bad is if the other side were the KKK. No group in opposition to Nazis and the KKK is just as bad.

While I have many more thoughts, I'm stopping here.

No, wait, one more thing:
To Hell with Trump too for giving evil a home and making it feel safe and empowered.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Homeschooling High School - Honors 9th Grade English

Like my decision to share my personal experience with my colostomy, illeostomy and abdominal wall reconstruction, I've decided to share our personal journey with homeschooling through high school. It also seems to be a topic that worries a lot of otherwise calm and collected homeschoolers. Now, we are just at the beginning. I am no expert other than the fact that I was once in high school and I was accepted to multiple UC universities, so I have at least some idea of what that takes to accomplish.

Some caveats before we begin:
Homeschooling journeys are very individual. Just because I mention something we are doing doesn't mean I think that is the best thing for everyone to do. It means this is what we have decided to do at this time for this kid. You know your kids and your goals, and my kid and her goals might be different. Use your discretion when following any advice.

We homeschool through a public charter program. They will create official high school transcripts for us from all the work my daughter will be doing. Unless we leave the charter, I won't be offering advice on how to write a transcript.

Also because we use a charter, I will be following, at least loosely, their checklist of standards for each class I write about so I know my daughter will get the proper credit for her work.

We don't know what our kiddo wants to do in life yet. So we are approaching high school from the perspective of making sure she is prepared for whatever she decides on. If she decides to go to a competitive university, we want her to be prepared to get in and succeed. If she chooses another path she will at worst be over-prepared. If she makes a decision later on about what she wants to be, we may switch gears to better aim for that.

So our guidelines for Honors English recommended reading and analyzing 6 novels. (Yes only 6!) She usually reads many more than that in a year, but we have been a little lax on the analysis part in the past, so that's something I'm going to focus more on this year. We'll go slower through the books and do a lot more talking and probably writing about them. Our novels for 9th grade high school English this year are:







To guide us along with the literature analysis portion of things I ordered a few guides. Specifically, I'd like to mention there two because I learned something:



What I learned was that these are not two different publishers and two different types of study guides as I first thought. They are a teacher's version and a student pages of the same study unit (well, if you bought it for the same novel -as you can see I did not.) Reading through these guides, I thought about ordering the missing piece of each one, but ultimately decided against it. I think I'll just use the section I have for each one, and we will still do our own thing, our own discussions, etc. This will give us a little more variety in how we go about our book discussions. If, when we are actually using them, I think otherwise, I'll report in here about how it went.

I also bought a Literature textbook, primarily so we can add in some short stories. I'm not sure how much we'll use this, but I wanted to round out the novel studies a little.


We spent a good part of 8th grade working on the 5 paragraph essay format until I was confident she was comfortable with it. So this year we'll work on refining her style, and help her put her thoughts and ideas into a structure.

I wanted her to try an online class, and thought English might be a good choice, but was unable to find anything that fit what I was looking for. I found several online and local writing classes, but nothing that would have been a full English class, and certainly nothing that would hit an honors level course.

She has several writing projects to complete throughout the year, and a couple of oral presentations. In addition she is required to take a proctored finial exam or complete a finial project. She is leaning toward doing the project, but we have no guidelines on what they are expecting for that or if she needs to turn it in to anyone in particular, so we will have to talk to her charter to clarify about that.

Wish us luck!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Love Squash - Flash Fiction Friday



Jon pushed his wide brimmed hat back and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. The hot sun lamps in the hydroponics bay could wear on a man after a while. Sitting on the edge of a raised bed of acorn squash he pulled out his water bottle and took a drink. 

It was well past the end of his shift. He would be fine heading home, and while there were always things to do, there wasn't anything that couldn't wait until tomorrow. Still he sat. For the past week, ever since Christy stood him up, he hadn't gone out much. Or at all. He didn't want to run into her in the corridors, or the laundry, or the cafeteria. So he was keeping deliberately odd hours to avoid her. Childish, possibly, but he didn't care. 

He realized he was sitting in the exact spot now where they had promised to meet. Like a fool he'd spent a ridiculous amount of time in front of the mirror primping his hair. He even remembered how slippery the plastic handle of the hairbrush had been in his sweaty hand. Even more, he remembered the solid lump in his pocket from the ring box. He'd been a nervous wreck. 

Then the waiting. She worked in the kitchens, so she was off when everything was done, not a specific time. Still she was usually free by 8:30 or so. By 9:30 he'd finally left to go to the kitchens. Maybe there was some sort of problem. Maybe he could help. But the kitchens were dark, the doors locked. Then it hit him that she had stood him up. And he had been ready to ask. . . he dodged a bullet there after all, he thought.

The lights dimmed; they were on timers and it was getting later. He stood up. No point in brewing over it anymore. It was what it was. His messenger pinged in his pocket. He tried to pull it out with the hand holding his water and he fumbled the device. It fell through a leafy squash plant and landed with a plop in the dirt. He set his bottle down and shoved leaves aside to get it back. In the semi darkness he saw a shiny glint and reached for it. It was an acorn squash, but he felt something metal as well, he plucked the vegetable out. The vegetable was misshapen. Around its middle was a silver bracelet. The one he'd given Christy he knew at once, but her rolled the squash over in his hand to confirm, and as expected he found the little silver heart with the word 'love' stamped on it. Also attached to the bracelet was a message stamp. That had been added on.

How did that get here? When could she have brought it without him knowing? Had someone stolen it? With apprehension, he pressed the stamp. It popped and crackled, but between all that he could make out Christy's voice, but not her words. The stamp had been lying in the dirt, and getting watered for a week no he realized. It had been there a week, enough time for this squash to grow around the bracelet. She had come. She'd come and she'd left this here for him. 

With growing dread, he dove back into the plant and pulled out his messenger. The ping had been from Christy. "Are you free to get together tonight?" He'd been ignoring her messages, and they had started coming less and less often. He looked back at them now with new eyes. "I'm sorry." "Did you get my message?" "Are you mad at me?" "Can you come see me?" "Where are you?" She wasn't sorry for hurting and leaving him, he saw now. She was sorry for something else. Something that had kept her from staying that night.

Ah! That night! A cat had come rushing out of the garden and scared him half to death in the dark he remembered. He'd all but fallen over, and he thought his hair had gotten all a mess. He'd rushed off to check it. He'd only been gone a minute. Damn it, and damn his pride too.

He hastily wiped his messenger on his pants to get the dirt off and replied that yes, he was free. Did she want to come over?

She replied she couldn't. She was still at the hospital bay.

Still? He wondered. He asked if she were all right, feeling panic rise.

Yes, it was her father. Didn't he get her message? She was there with him. Would Jon be willing to come there? She didn't like leaving him. 

Yes, absolutely. I'm leaving work now, let me clean up and I'll be right there.

Thank you so much. I've really needed you. See you soon. 

There were flowers by the water tanks. He could clip a few of those on the way out to bring to her father. He looked at the bracelet trying to think of the best way to get it off the squash, and then decided to leave it. It kinda looked like a heart now the way it was dented in. He'd give her the whole thing.

The End


This is the second story written from the photo prompts my friends sent:



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Thoughts on Watership Down



I'm rereading Watership Down by Richard Adams in preparation to assigning it for my 9th grader. I waited until 9th grade to assign this particular book because I remembered it as being really good, but really, really creepy and frightening when I read it as a child. I don't remember how old I was when I read it, but much younger than 9th grade. I also spotted Watership Down on several recommended reading lists for high schoolers. I think this just reinforced the idea I had that this was a scary book and not for young kids.

Now that I'm rereading it however, I'm increasingly of the opinion that the creepy memories I have are not of the actual book, but of the cartoon movie version from 1978 that I watched, and then had nightmares about, as a small child. Because the Watership Down movie was a cartoon, people liked to show it to kids despite the amount of death and gore they managed to put in. My husband remembers it airing on television ever Easter. How festive to see rabbits fighting to the death, but that's how we rolled back then.


On my current reading, I'm enjoying the heck out of it. There's a reason some things just hold up over time. Yes, there are a few creepy moments, and a fair amount of fighting and injuries, but the gore is minimal in the book compared to the cartoon. It's just a group of rabbits who work together to find the things that make rabbits happy in life: a safe burrow, good grass, mates, and so on. There is teamwork and friendship and bravery.

In fact, I'm enjoying it enough that I think I'll include the 5th grader, and we'll all read it together. I think she'd enjoy it. Some of the vocabulary might be advanced for her, but not much. She reads several grade levels ahead on her own anyway. Mainly it's the rabbit-specific language that is tricky, and that is new to all of us. I've debated with myself about showing the movie version to the kids when they finish reading. I'm afraid of scaring the memory of a great book with the memory of a horrific movie.

When I was trying to see if Netflix had the Watership Down movie, I found a 'coming soon' Netflix original miniseries. Apparently one intention is to make it significantly less gory and scaring for children, but the article still does say it won't be for very young children. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/27/bbc-remake-watership-down-with-less-violence-to-avoid-scarring-c/
I'm excited about this.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

My Abdominal Wall Reconstruction Experience

When I was told I needed a surgery called an "Abdominal Wall Reconstruction" it was a frightening moment. I spent a lot of time trying to find out everything I could about what that kind of surgery entails. It was more difficult than I'd expected. Some articles or chat forums lump it in with hernia repair surgery, and that made it sound like I could be back to normal in a few weeks. I knew from the discussions with my surgeons that this was a much bigger deal.

One blog I found very helpful was this: http://www.notquitewonderwoman.com/surgery-post-1-ventral-hernia-repair-with-abdominal-wall-reconstruction/

If this is something you're going through, she explains her journey very well, and is much braver than me in that she also supplies photos. She also explains how she found her surgeons which isn't something I can speak to since I have Kaiser for my insurance and they have their own in house Abdominal Wall Reconstruction Team. (Who were wonderful! Thank goodness.) This team included a general surgeon and a plastic surgeon, and a nurse practitioner.

I think part of the problem with trying to find information on complete abdominal wall reconstructions is that not every procedure is the same. When I was researching information about my partial colectomy, it was fairly straightforward to find information on what to expect. While there is a lot of variation in why someone might need a colectomy (cancer, diverticulitis, severe Crohn's, etc.) the actual surgery to get the thing out doesn't seem to vary as much.

However, an abdominal wall reconstruction is going to depend on what's wrong with the abdominal wall in the first place. If there are multiple hernias, or just one massive hernia. Where the hernias are. How much good/normal abdominal wall structures there are to work with, etc.

For example, one of my hernias, the one at the site of the original colectomy was low on the left side of my abdomen, right over my hip bone. The surgeons were concerned that hip bone would make attaching the mesh in that area tricky. They warned that the might need to drill into the bone to attach it, but they couldn't say for sure what they would need to do until they were in there. Thankfully they were able to attach it by wrapping the mesh a little further around my side so no bone drilling happened, but that conversation helped me see how each abdominal wall reconstruction is unique in many ways.

The basic gist of reconstruction though, is separating all the muscles and damaged layers of the abdominal wall and rearranging them so they cover the holes from thee hernias, and reinforcing them with mesh to keep it all together.

I'm at about 5 weeks post-op now, and really happy with how I feel. My doctors have warned me at length that my abdomen will never again be as strong as it used to be and I need to proceed accordingly. At this point in my recovery I still have a lot of restrictions on what I am allowed to do. Lifting, bending, twisting, or using my abdominal muscles in any way isn't allowed. I must be careful to never gain weight. People ask me about that a lot. The mesh is holding my abdomen together now. It will always be there. It can't stretch, so weight gain can cause damage to the tissues attached to the mesh, and possibly tear them. Not good. This will be a major challenge for me, but I have no choice but to rise to the occasion.

Recovery is a long slow process. I will see my surgical team again at 3 months and 6 months post op and learn when I can safely do more. Unless there is a problem, then obviously I will go in sooner.

Anyway, I decided to write more about my experience because of how difficult it was for me to find any information when I needed it, and I was so grateful to find the blog linked above. I hope someone out there finds this useful too. Feel free to ask questions if there is something more you'd like to know.